Slandered as Political?


Rev. Dr. DeWayne L. Davis


The biblical text is saturated with what we call ‘politics’—with national liberation remembered and expected, with law for daily life, with material care for the poor—Catherine Keller, God and Power


A couple of years ago, I was honored to join several of my colleagues of faith on the writing team to create liturgy and worship resources for the World Council of Church’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Because Minneapolis was ground zero for international protests following the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, the Council invited clergy and activists of faith from the city to share their wisdom about the experience in the form of a liturgy. No sooner had the worship resources been published that the conservative news outlet The Daily Wire posted a story with a headline blaring, “Minnesota Group Steers Vatican-Led’ Christian Unity’ Week into U.S. Politics.” More surprising than the headline was to see them single me out by name, along with two of my colleagues of color, implying that we were responsible for “using the ideal of Christian unity to push a Marxist political agenda.” The article included no examples of anything in the liturgy that could be characterized as Marxist and dismissed our prayers for equity, justice, and compassion as solely political and, thus, unacceptable for worship.


The article’s writer saw our invitation to hear voices from the margins, testimonies of struggle under racism and police brutality, and articulations of the impact of political and economic disfranchisement as unacceptable, inappropriate rhetoric for the church’s liturgy. We mistakenly assumed that, despite our political and ideological differences, we would all be prepared and willing to hear the cries of God’s beloved for mercy and liberation in times of trouble. I suspect that dismissing our liturgy as “political” is an attempt to signal to others to avoid using our liturgy and preclude talk about oppression and injustice in the church.


But being political does not make us partisan; it makes us biblical. Theologian Catherine Keller notes that the biblical text is not squeamish about its engagement with what may be considered political. If the political nature of the biblical concerns bothers us, perhaps it says something about our resistance to the demands of discipleship vis-à-vis the oppressed, dominated, and exploited. Keller cautions the faithful to recognize our apocalyptic unconscious, feelings of impending catastrophe that prompt us to think in terms of black and white, us versus them, not just religiously but also politically. But I take the Jesus of the Gospels at his word that the reign of God has come near. And if there is indeed any concept of the new creation in that pronouncement, then our liturgy sought to reflect and anticipate an alternative ordering of our thinking and living to include within our prayers and moral imagination the plight of the most vulnerable among us. Perhaps that does make us political, prayerful, and biblical. Amen.

Again, Love is the Answer

By Rev. Dr. DeWayne L. Davis

The separation of faith and love is always a consequence of a deterioration of religion . . . Faith as a set of passionately accepted and defended doctrines does not produce acts of love
― Paul Tillich, Dynamics of Faith

Years ago, when the cultural reality of declining church trust, membership, and participation became dramatically visible in opinion surveys and denominational population data, I recall trying to make a distinction between faith and religion as a way to restore the church’s reputation for those who’d lost faith in it. I thought there was something to the idea of faith being personal and religion being institutional that could convince people of the power of faith against religion’s failures. It is easy to disparage religion because of the excesses of its most violent or intolerant adherents. But as expressions of faith have become more noisily bigoted and nationalistic, the distinction I’ve been imposing between faith and religion has not held up well. I’ve since seen my mistake: I assumed that if people had more theological, biblical, and religious knowledge, it would lead them to faith. It doesn’t necessarily happen like that. I have found love to be the source of a deeper faith.


The theologian Paul Tillich maintained that “faith is the state of being ultimately concerned” and “religion is the state of being grasped by an ultimate concern.” Quite a few people of faith have demonstrated over the years that their ultimate concerns are power, money, ideology, or something else that is finite and preliminary. Whether one uses the language of faith or the practices of religion to demonstrate discipleship, if there is to be a meaningful distinction, it will be made so by the power of love. Perhaps what those who find the church, faith, and religion hypocritical or who find the idea of faith incompatible with scientific truth are most assuredly not seeing in the church is expressions of love.


The theologian James K. A. Smith invites us to rethink how love inheres in the human person, asking, “what if, instead of starting from the assumption that human beings are thinking things, we started from the conviction that human beings are first and foremost lovers?” The church testifies that God is love and exhorts people to love God with all their hearts, souls, and might while offering the world creeds, rules, dogma, and doctrine and rejecting those who do not embrace them without question. A few offer LGBTQ people nothing but attacks and curses justified by tradition and Scripture. And I’ve encountered people of faith who love the church and the Bible more than they love their neighbors. Dogma and doctrine do not produce acts of love; people do. As we continue to explore how to shift the narratives about the church, faith, and religion, I hope we begin with love. Always love. Again, love is the answer. Amen.

Can I See God?


Rev. Dr. DeWayne L. Davis

I want to say to those who insist on favoritism by God for humans: there are other siblings—microbes and mountains, leopard and leeches, all beloved—Katharine M. Preston, “Earth’s Self-Care”

As we prepared for vacation, we had always planned to go whale-watching. However, I had little expectation that we would see any whales as previous attempts invariably resulted in no sightings. The only other occasion I saw a whale was one of those once-in-lifetime events that just happened while we were doing something else. Whales don’t order their movements on the off chance that humans will get to see them. But something about this experience was different. Every part of the journey to see whales felt like prayer. We were ten people gathered in a zodiac boat, sailing in silence past islands and inlets and winding our way over large and small waves and wakes with sea water spraying our faces and the smell of marine life reminding us that we were in another habitat. It felt sacred and serious. An unspoken prayer kept repeating in my mind, “Let us see your glory.” And then we saw them. A pod of 4 orcas just a few feet away, one of which remained temporarily several yards away from the group to hunt for food. Their every breach of the surface filled us with joy.


I was surprised by my reaction. I could not contain my emotion nor hold back the tears. And I know that I was exclaiming words of awe, praise, and amazement, but I don’t remember what I was saying precisely. I knew I had been audibly responding to the beautiful sight because a woman who sat next to us on the boat asked, “what is wrong with us? Why can’t we pull ourselves together?” I’ve been reflecting on that question since that experience. We couldn’t “pull ourselves together” because we had encountered something holy, revelatory, and beloved.


We also saw harmony in the creation beyond our need to control or exploit it. We saw how another of God’s creations lived in nature, unmoved by our desire or concern for anything else other than its immediate need for food and community. These beautiful, gentle giants took no more food or territory than they needed and remained oblivious to the small boat tracking their movements. In their habitat and their migration, they ministered to me. I heard a sermon in their presence, action, and engagement with the creation: we are not the center of the world; God moves in and through all of God’s good creation; their purpose for being and existing is beyond my comprehension but must be an essential component of God’s work in the world. It humbled me. And it begged the question: how do we resist the human tendency toward mastery and dominion when it comes to God’s creation? How can we honor and be a part of creation with commitment, reciprocity, and mutuality?

The Church Can Still Change


Rev. Dr. DeWayne L. Davis


So many progressive church spaces are made up of people showing up, saying they want transformation, but again and again choosing comfort instead . . . the church is filled with people who want the beautiful outcome promised in the Gospel without any of the real sacrifice of change” —Andrew Lang


A colleague sent around an article recently with the provocative title, “Why Church Won’t Change.” It sounded like clickbait, so I hesitated to read it at first, but my curiosity got the better of me. Upon reading it, I wish it was something I could easily dismiss or whose argument I could pick apart. I also wanted to believe that the writer was overstating the challenges or was unaware of the exceptions to his belief that the church will not change. And yet, there is something prophetic about how he truthfully contends with the desire within many churches, especially progressive churches, for social justice transformation without changing anything about our habits, practices, and traditions. There does appear to be a gap between what we desire for our communities and places of faith and the level of effort and sacrifice we are willing to expend to make it so.


But I still believe the church can and will change. I think there are enough of us willing to imagine, experiment, and release in ways that break through apathy, caution, and resistance to experience fundamental transformation. Andrew Lang admits that “we are thirsty for intentionality, a dedication to real justice, an end to platitudes, and deep commitment to exploring the inner life.” This is fertile ground for change. Our intentionality and dedication can transform practices and move resources in ways that inspire change and invite people to take the church seriously again.


I know the church has found its comfort and success in religious tradition, institutional practices, and cultural realities that bind us to the status quo. At a time when our democracy is facing a moral crisis because of the politics of grievance and resentment, white supremacy, and abandonment of norms of political participation and representation, the church may be the last repository of a robust conversation about the work of justice and the power of sacred space to embolden the pursuit of justice. Lang concluded that the work of justice would “form around the dinner table and in organizing circles,” not in the church. But there is no reason the church can’t face its resistance and reluctance as part of doing justice work and making fundamental change. Perhaps that becomes the church’s priority over outsized considerations about growth and attendance: making the church the space for the intentional pursuit of the work of justice, not just talking about justice. It’s about challenging ourselves not to let buildings, committees, and traditions limit our imagination or intention. If we did that, the church could still change.

My Heart Can’t Break Today


Rev. DeWayne L. Davis


Over the last few months, I have attended several religious and theological conferences. Many sermons, workshops, and presentations have focused on responding theologically and prophetically to intractable problems in our world. Experts and theologians have provided great wisdom that I know will help me address various cultural, political, and economic issues impacting our community. In those conference offerings, there was no minimizing how bad things are nor any attempt to mask or avert the gaze from the horrors of war, racism, and oppression. At a recent workshop, just as I was settling to hear a presentation and began to take notes, I heard myself whispering, “I need a break from the hard stuff today. I don’t know if my heart can take another break.” At that moment, I remembered a poem I wrote after the news of the killing of Philando Castille when I was not ready for one more story of police violence and the killing of another black person. I know the work of justice continues, but I am compelled on some days to say . . .


My heart can’t break today.

I want to take a walk and enjoy the breeze.

I want to sit out on the deck, drink good wine, and tell good stories.

I want to laugh hard and be loud about silly stuff.


My heart can’t break today.

I want to pay attention to the gifts of blue sky, singing birds,

and oddly shaped clouds that look like puppies, Jesus, or one of the Golden Girls.

I want to see old friends and reminisce about bad dates, big mistakes,

and how we overcame them.


My heart can’t break today.

I want to think warmly about people before they profile me, ignore me,

or hurt me.

I want to trust in the ideals and values they taught us in school

long enough to combat the cynicism and hopelessness

of one who has seen too many sad things.


My heart can’t break today.

The weight of hard things has made my heart too heavy.

The distance between the ups and downs keeps shrinking.

I need time to recover, see hopeful things, and hear better news.

No, my heart can’t break today. So, wait to tell me what you have to say to me.

The Power of an Expansive Theological Imagination


Rev. Dr. DeWayne L. Davis



“Theology that arises from Scripture and from the teachings of Jesus does not allow for the identification and exclusion of the other” —Mark Charles and Soong-Chan Rah, Unsettling Truths


Trolling social media the other day, I saw the latest outrage precipitated by a religious attack on democracy, women’s rights, or LGBTQ people. They come so frequently now and are so similar in their details that any specific story I chose to share would be familiar. As the commenters to the posts discussed the theological reasoning behind each religious persecution, it saddened me to notice that what they were describing revealed a stunted theological imagination, an inability to see within the biblical witness divine resistance and creative response to the ugliness of a fallen social reality. It takes very little imagination to give oneself theological permission to do harmful, self-interested things and maintain a status quo in the current social reality that never liberates or expands society’s social and material benefits to the most vulnerable among us.


I discovered the power of theological imagination early in my life. All of the explanations I received from my parents and church for why going to the movies, attending parties, or prohibiting women from wearing pants arose from a reading of the Bible that reinforced an existing social reality and worldview. Specifically, my church and family had embraced values and practices for organizing and structuring their lives and used Scripture to support and justify them. Therein lies the power and danger of the theological imagination: it can either dull and distort or expand and enliven the social imagination. Suppose my theology permits everything I want, upholds my power and privilege, and imposes the values and practices I’ve constructed on society and culture. In that case, it will be hard for me to imagine an alternative, much less an alternative that mirrors God’s shalom for the entire creation.


A careful reading of Scripture does not easily result in the kinds of diabolical actions and oppressive ideologies humanity embraces to shape and control our social reality. Only a diseased social imagination, beholden to the logic of power, exclusion, and white supremacy, would distort the whole of the biblical narrative to create a social reality that serves only the individual, one race, or one ethnicity. Reading Scripture in ways that stifle the imagination, protect the status quo of inequality and oppression, and reinforce the worst tendencies to hoard and exclude others is a conscious decision. With every encounter with Scripture, we have an opportunity to embrace a theology that inspires covenant and connectivity across differences in race, sex, gender, ethnicity, and religion. I pray that our reading of sacred text inspires us with theological imagination that widens the welcome circle, affirms the dignity of all creation, and includes God’s diverse humanity in the beloved community without condition or compromise. May it be so.

Justice in Public Life

Rev. Dr. DeWayne L. Davis


“Remove your evil deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do good; seek justice; rescue the oppressed; defend the orphan; plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:16b-17)


Over the last few years, religious people and institutions have been at the center of the political upheaval in our nation. There is a deep distrust of and dissatisfaction with institutions that many people are inclined to abandon or tear them all down, including the church. Anger and anxiety permeate spiritual spaces such that religious people cannot be counted on to inspire the public to care for the poor, do justice, or welcome strangers. Even the folk who attend church faithfully and consider themselves highly observant of spiritual practices appear to be more beholden to their ideology than they are to their God. As a result, our public life is in trouble.


In describing Isaiah’s prophetic utterances to Israel, the theologian Walter Brueggemann has suggested that not reflecting God’s will in public life will lead to trouble in public life. Not only is there trouble in our public life, but it also appears that religious people have ceased to be exemplars of the grace, mercy, and justice to which the biblical witness testifies as central to God’s character. The words, worship, and presence of religious people in the public square may arguably reflect less what is important to God and more often what is important politically. If you look at how the religious show up in public life, you’d think God only cares about abortion, protecting the right to bear arms, closing public restrooms to trans people, and Supreme Court nominees. Our songs, prayers, and liturgies talk about a God who cares about the poor, justice, and loving our neighbors. Yet, when the church shows up in public life, it is mainly silent or hostile when it comes to doing justice.


I recently saw a book in the religion section of the bookstore with a title that suggested that social justice is anti-God, anti-biblical, and destructive to the church. But according to Isaiah, doing justice is an undeniable, non-negotiable part of being in relationship with God. Taking care of the most vulnerable is not a suggestion for God; it is imperative. Isaiah prophesied to Israel that God didn’t want to be flattered and did not share the gifts of worship and covenant for their sake alone. Israel failed, and its public life shattered. Yes, we are experiencing trouble in public life. We are engaged in a heated and frenzied struggle over the future. However, I hope we double down on seeking justice in response. May we all do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, and plead for the widow. May it be so.

Taking Time to Notice Beauty


Rev. Dr. DeWayne L. Davis


I want to tell you that the world is still beautiful . . . I still believe we are capable of attention, that anyone who notices the world must want to save it”—Rebecca Baggett, “Testimony”


Several weeks ago, I stopped at an intersection traffic light behind a car with several bumper stickers plastered on its rear bumper. When the light turned green, the driver took far too long to move because they were distracted by something in their center console or passenger seat. In annoyance and impatience, I was just about to blow my car horn and let loose with words I shouldn’t use when I noticed the message on one of the bumper stickers: “There is so much beauty in the world. Take time to notice it.” I don’t know how it worked, but my anger immediately subsided, and I searched for the beauty around me. A few days ago, a colleague of mine posted a wedding anniversary picture with her spouse with a crudely painted message on the wall behind them, “Life is beautiful.” I found myself nodding in agreement. Okay, I get the message. Beauty surrounds us. I am convinced that transcendentalist poet Ralph Waldo Emerson is right in his conclusion that “beauty breaks in everywhere.” Our loss is failing to notice it.


With so many challenges menacing the world, especially the destructive consequences of our abuse and exploitation of the earth’s natural resources, we may forget just how still beautiful the world is. I take for granted the beautiful plants and flowers in the courtyard at church. Sometimes, I forget to take notice of the sky or a tree until someone points them out to me. Noticing beauty may not answer the world’s most profound problems or injustices. Still, it can be a necessary temporary distraction from the hard stuff that creates feelings of despair and hopelessness. Yes, I know beauty is subjective, but whether its effect is emotional or intellectual, the beauty around us can be a source of delight no matter what else.


In light of the depressing news about war and violence, pandemics and climate change, and political backlash and polarization, the words and wisdom of poets have reminded me of the world’s beauty more so than scripture. Don’t get me wrong. The biblical witness about love, justice, and God’s faithfulness affirm my faith and fortify my resolve. But the poets often serve as the heralds of beauty ignored, forgotten, or discounted. The poet Rebecca Baggett invites us “to look again and again” to recognize beauty in the tender grass, the river rocks, and the October leaves. Perhaps that can be a new discipline to incorporate into our spiritual practices and explorations: taking intentional time to notice beauty. I pray that each day you find beauty around you in which to delight. May it be so.

Enfleshing Good Religion


Rev. Dr. DeWayne L. Davis


What about the [Jericho] road? It is important to take care of people. It is important to be a good neighbor. But somebody needs to fix the road . . . I’m sick and tired of poor religion

—Bishop Yvette Flunder


I attended The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries (TFAM) biannual leadership conference this past week. TFAM is a radically inclusive, trans-denominational fellowship of churches and ministers founded by Rev. Dr. Yvette Flunder in 2000 to propagate “a radical social ministry, reaching to the furthest margins of society to serve all in need without prejudice and discrimination.” We gathered again at a time that is far more politically, culturally, and economically fraught for women, the poor, and LGBTQ people. The theme of the conference was “Have We Got Good Religion?” a provocative riff off the lyrics of the Negro Spiritual Certainly Lord, which asks, “have you got good religion” and “do you love ev’rybody.” The theme set out an intentional contrast with the churches, theologies, and religious collectivities that have used their authority and influence not to liberate and empower the poor, the oppressed, or the marginalized seeking justice but to serve their own power and political interests by controlling the levers of governmental power. It is an acknowledgment that there is bad or poor religion, which is not a force for good in the world.


Bishop Flunder set the frame for considering what “good religion” looks like in her sermon at the opening worship and plenary, using the parable of the Good Samaritan from the Gospel of Luke as her preaching text. In describing the dangerous Jericho Road and the laudable response of the Samaritan in demonstrating the good religion of love and care for a suffering neighbor, Bishop Flunder lamented that the most visible manifestation of faith in our current culture and politics is “where the religious cross the road” to avoid serving their neighbors in need and never work to fix dangerous roads where people get hurt.


At a time when people of faith are searching for ways to be a constructive force for collective action in a toxic political environment, this conference issued a prophetic call on people with a progressive faith to engage a public hungry for proactive religious responses to the betrayal of women and their right to reproductive justice, retrenchment from voting rights and multiracial democracy, and backlash against racial justice and LGBTQ rights. Every prophetic word prompted us to consider how we may enflesh and manifest “good religion” that sees, loves, and affirms all of God’s beloved. Although bad religion appears to be winning the day, and even if the politicians who seek our votes and support are failing to meet the moment, we have an opportunity to enflesh and manifest a “good religion” that works on both serving our neighbors and fixing systems to which too many of our neighbors remain vulnerable. I pray we show the world good religion.

We Do Not Lose Heart


Rev. Dr. DeWayne L. Davis


We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed”—2 Corinthians 4:8-9


I recently told a friend that I was wrestling with how to remain steady and hopeful amid consistently bad news about the justice issues I care about. With recent Supreme Court decisions overturning Roe v. Wade and weakening the separation between church and state, persistent state and community violence cutting short young Black and brown lives, and democratic institutions and elected officials unable to protect the right to vote or respond to urgent human needs, it’s hard to be hopeful about the future. We seem to be moving further away from realizing a multi-racial democracy, generous social safety, environmental sustainability, and reproductive justice even as our society gets more unequal, less safe, and more polarized. A panelist of commentators on a podcast I listen to recently concluded that the electoral prospects of candidates who can overturn these setbacks remain dismal. How do you not fall into resignation? What do you rely upon to keep on keeping on?


But I take comfort in knowing that change happens. And as the writer Rebecca Solnit reminds us, “We can play a role in that change if we act.” The scary things we are witnessing, the losses we are experiencing, and the setbacks we are confronting require our action. We can’t lose heart. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul declares twice with confidence, “We do not lose heart.” He would have had every reason to lose heart, considering the criticism he was getting from church folks and the persecution he had undergone. He had been arrested and jailed too many times to count. He wasn’t performing spectacular miracles that could draw in the people and the money. He was afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down, but he could testify confidently that he is never crushed, driven to despair, forsaken, or destroyed. In Paul’s ministry, we get a window into the internal contradiction inherent in embracing our faith, church, and discipleship in pursuit of justice: what we do is filled with both glory and suffering. But we do not lose heart.


The biblical witness portrays Jesus, Paul, and other exemplary figures of the faith as meeting the moment, confronting destructive and oppressive empires and principalities with faithfulness and determination. In our history, vulnerable people met their respective moments with courage and persistence, whether it was the segregation and discrimination of Jim Crow, the sexism of a patriarchal nation, or the neglect and homophobia of a government content to sacrifice sexual minorities to the ravages of AIDS. They did not succumb to self-defeating despair. And they made change happen. So, we do not lose heart. Love, justice, and reason are calling out for us to keep on keeping on. May God bless us to be agents of change. Amen.